Alternatives to the $10 billion Site C dam would produce significantly more jobs than construction of the controversial hydroelectric dam, according to a new study led by the University of British Columbia.
The analysis by researchers from UBC’s Program on Water Governance found that if Site C is scrapped, there would be modest job losses in the short-term — 18 to 30 per cent until 2024 — but job gains of between 22 and 50 per cent through 2030.*
A recent three-month investigation conducted by the B.C. Utilities Commission found alternatives to Site C, including wind energy and conservation measures to reduce provincial electricity demand, could replace the dam at an equal or lower unit energy cost.
“By 2054, the B.C. Utilities Commission alternative portfolio will have created three times as many jobs as Site C,” Karen Bakker, one of the authors of the report and co-director of the Program on Water Governance, told DeSmog Canada.
“Site remediation, geothermal construction and energy conservation will create thousands of jobs each year,” she said.
Alternative energy, such as wind power, creates many more jobs for every dollar spent, Bakker told DeSmog Canada.
Using BC Hydro and BCUC figures, the researchers concluded that between now and 2024 continuing Site C would create 35,398 cumulative person-years of employment compared to up to 24,612 for alternative portfolios.
However by 2054, the alternative portfolio will have completely eclipsed Site C, with 37,618 job-years in the Site C scenario and 105,618 for alternatives.
Pressure to Go Ahead
As government mulls over Site C options, with a decision on whether to continue or scrap the project expected by the end of the year, the spectre of more than 2,000 construction workers losing their jobs shortly before Christmas has weighed heavily. The government is also facing pressure from union groups, such as the Allied Hydro Council of B.C. and Christian Labour Association of Canada, who say the project is too far along to quit.
But, if the project is terminated, remediation of the site will require many workers and provide a transition period for the workforce and the local economy, Bakker said.
“It is a big project. It would absorb most of the workers on site… and there will be similar pay scales and skill levels to construction jobs,” she said.
“Two years of remediation and 10 years of monitoring will create about 10,000 jobs at similar pay levels — that’s the transition term for workers — and then, looking at the long term, you can generate more jobs for the dollars spent and generate jobs across the province and especially in the Peace region because it has the best wind resources in the province,” she said.
The analysis found that every direct job at Site C costs over $1 million and, if all jobs are taken into consideration, the cost per job is about $225,000.
BC Hydro figures put current Site C employment at 2,375, but, once construction is complete in 2024, Site C would employ only 74 people each year.
Job Losses Overstated
Even current employment numbers are being questioned by some groups, such as the Peace Valley Landowner Association, which claims the job numbers have been inflated.
“We are concerned that public confusion on this point may make things more complicated for decision-makers in an already complex situation,” says an Association statement.
West coast energy consultant Robert McCullough, who has acted on behalf of the Peace Valley Landowner Association and Peace Valley Environment Association, agrees that there is a common misconception that cancelling Site C will mean the loss of construction jobs.
“The reality is that, while some of the construction jobs will end at Site C, more than twice the person-years of employment will be created with investment into alternative energy projects across the province,” he said in a report.
A bonus is that the jobs will have a wider range of specialization than simply energy and resource development, he said.
More than $2 billion has already been spent on Site C and remediation would cost another $1.8 billion, but, costs of continuing construction are likely to skyrocket from the current $8.9 billion budget.
Site C was not sent to BCUC for recommendations and scrutiny before the previous BC Liberal government pushed the project ahead, but a BCUC report requested by the NDP government, concluded it is already behind time and over budget and is likely to cost at least $10 billion to complete.
*Update Wednesday Nov. 29, 2017 10:15am pst. This article previously stated the UBC analysis was independently reviewed. It did not receive an independent review.
Image: Wind turbines in B.C. Photo: Garth Lenz | DeSmog Canada